The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 has been notified in the Gazette Notification of Madhya Pradesh on the 27th of March after receiving the assent of the Governor, Anandiben Patel on the previous day.
"The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2021 has been promulgated and published in the gazette notification on March 27 after the approval given by the Governor a day earlier (on March 26)," Rajesh Rajora, Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Madhya Pradesh, said.
The Act of 2021 has replaced the ordinance passed by the state cabinet in December 2020, and later put into effect in the month of January, 2021.
The new Act poses a penalty of a term of imprisonment of upto 10 years for conversion of religion through fraudulent means, “including those for the sake of marriage, besides the religious conversions by misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat of force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or by any other fraudulent means, reads the document.”
That means, the provisions of this bill were non-bailable and the penalties prescribed are non-compoundable in nature.
The Home Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Narottam Mishra, concluded the Bill of December, 2020 to be one of the most stringent religious conversion bills in effect in the country, and said “The new legislation will prohibit religious conversion or such efforts by misrepresentation, allurement, force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or any other fraudulent means. Abetment and conspiracy for religious conversion will also be prohibited under it.”
The Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantra Adhiniyam, 1968, which regulated the matters of religious conversions has thereby been repealed by the new legislation.
The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 prescribes relevant applicable procedures for religious conversions in the State, and seeks to penalise the offenders who acts outside the purview of the said Act, or deliberately acts in contravention of the prescribed provisions.
The Preamble to the Act says "An Act to provide freedom of religion by prohibiting conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or any fraudulent means and for the matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."
Section 3 of the Act restricts the conversion, or the attempt to such conversion “either directly or otherwise, any other person by use of misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet or conspire such conversion.” It also forbids the abetting to such conversions, and declares any such abovementioned conversions to be null and void.
Section 5 prescribes the punishment of contravention of the provisions of Section 3 with a term of imprisonment ranging from one year to five years and with a fine of not less than Rs. 25,000.
Section 6 declares any such marriage conducted in contravention to the provisions of Section 3 to be null and void.
Section 8 of the Act provides that the children born out of the marriages that have been proved to be null and void by the courts under Section 7 of the Act for conducting such marriage by contravention of the provisions of Section 3, are legitimate children. The Act states, “the succession of the property by such child shall be according to the law governing inheritance of the father.” Nonetheless, such child shall not have “any right in or to the property of any person, other than his father.”
Section 9 of the Act states that the maintenance of any such woman whose marriage has been so declared to be null and void, and any such children born out of the void marriage are entitled to be maintained under the provisions of Chapter IX of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
Section 10 of the Act invites the people desirous of converting their religion to file an application before the District Magistrate 60 days prior to such conversion, failing which, imprisonment for a term ranging from three to five years and a fine which shall not be less than Rs. 50,000 may be levied. Such application must clearly state that such conversion is sought “on his own free will and without any force, coercion, undue influence and allurement.”
The burden of proof, according to the provisions of Section 12 of the Act of whether such conversion has been carried out by “misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion, marriage or any fraudulent means lies on the accused.”
Section 14 of the Act states, “No police officer below the rank of Sub-inspector of Police shall investigate any offence registered under the Act.”
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